The government’s chief scientific adviser said coronavirus will continue to evolve over the next few years, adding there was no guarantee the next variant would have as reduced severity as the Omicron variant.
“As it evolves, what it’s trying to do is transmit more readily,” Sir Patrick said.
He added that protecting the most vulnerable people in society was absolutely crucial, and said the next year or more was a period of “quite unstable evolution”.
Meanwhile, Sir Chris said subsequent winters could also see a combination of Covid, flu and other respiratory problems, leading to public health experts expecting winters to “be tricky” even without new variants.
He stressed that people are being advised to continue to self-isolate if they have Covid-19, similar to public health advice about other illnesses such as norovirus.
He also said wearing face masks in crowded public places “remains sensible and pragmatic advice” which he implored everyone to continue to follow, as we moved into the next stage of the pandemic.
Earlier on Monday, the prime minister unveiled his ‘living with Covid’ plan in the House of Commons.
He also expressed concern about new variants during his address to MPs, saying there may be “significant resurgences” in the future.
But, he said the government would “maintain our resilience to manage and respond to these risks, including our world-leading ONS survey which will allow us to continue tracking the virus in granular detail, with regional and age breakdowns helping us to spot surges as and where they happen”.
As part of a shift away from government intervention towards “personal responsibility”, Boris Johnson announced the end of all legal domestic restrictions in England.
This includes removing the legal requirement for people who test positive to self-isolate from Thursday.
Explaining his rationale behind the move, Mr Johnson hailed the success of the testing programme, but said the budget in the last financial year was bigger than that of the Home Office, costing £2 million in the last month alone.
This he said, combined with the reduced severity of Omicron and high levels of immunity, had played a part in his decision to scale back on free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing.
However, he said the government was working with retailers to ensure the public could “always buy a test”.
There is now a time limit on ordering lateral flow tests, with individuals not only able to order a box every three days, instead of 24 hours as was previously.
The changes will be subject to approval by Parliament.